Air ambulance charity unveils night flight helicopter

The East Anglian Air Ambulance (EAAA) charity has unveiled its revolutionary new night flight helicopter.

The new helicopter will serve the whole of Bedfordshire, and can undertake night missions until the early hours,

It is the first such helicopter in the country to be given clearance to fly at night by the Civil Aviation Authority.

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Pilots, doctors and paramedics who work with the EAAA will begin training in the new Eurocopter EC135 T2e on Wednesday (September 19).

Previous helicopters used by the charity were unable to fly in darkness but it is hoped the German-built EC135 will be called into operation as late as 1am.

EAAA’s paramedic ground vehicles will also be starting their shifts earlier than they do now, so they could be available as early as 6am.

As such the organisation hopes that it can move closer to providing a true 24-hour service.

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Briefing members of the media at Cambridge Airport’s Business & General Aviation Day on Tuesday (September 18), founder and chairman Andrew Egerton-Smith heralded a new era for the EAAA.

After a holding a tendering process for the new helicopters Mr Egerton-Smith said trustees were delighted to secure the services of Bond, an experienced operator in the air ambulance field.

He said: ““Today marks the next big step for us and I anticipate an exciting future where working with us will be a badge of honour for clinicians who will want to join our team to hone their trauma skills and knowledge and that individuals and companies will continue to support our life-saving and life-changing work.”

Pete Cummings, director of operations at Bond believes the new helicopter – which will eventually be moved to Norwich and replaced with a newer model in Cambridge – will offer a highly sophisticated service.

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He said: “Two of the three pilots are ex-Army and have a great deal of experience in flying these kind of helicopters, and we can also now use night vision goggles, which were previously only available to the police.

“The Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) we can operate also gives us a great deal more flexibility and options when there is an emergency.”

Dr Tom Hurst – a doctor based at King’s College Hospital in London who will be crewing on the EC135 – says the new service will be vital for helping patients who are in the most serious need of medical aid.

He said: “The HEMS service means that the helicopter can be called into action very quickly, and especially for the few per cent of 999 calls when the person involved needs very critical care.

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“Whereas with a regular air ambulance the pilot can only land on terrain which has been previously agreed and risk-assessed, with HEMS the helicopter can for example land by a motorway or close to a housing estate when required.

“As long as enough space is available around the helicopter the spot will normally be suitable.”

He added: “We can also usually be granted immediate permission to use airspace above an airport, for example, to reach a destination.

“With a regular air ambulance service this must be obtained some time before the flight, which is obviously not conducive to emergencies.”

Dr Hurst will be one of the doctors who accompanies a pilot and one or more paramedics on each shift.